Jose Luis Garcia: Volunteering in Tchad

Jose Luis Garcia studied the Professional Diploma of Tropical Nursing (PDTN), graduating in 2018. After his time at LSHTM he embarked on a volunteering experience in Tchad (Republic of Chad) for the Iluminafrica Foundation. In this post he explains his life-changing experience and tells us about his time at LSHTM.

Why did you decide to study at LSHTM and how has this complemented your career?

My great interest in the protection of human rights was one of the main reasons why I decided to study nursing. It was in Watford, whilst I was working in the A&E Department, where I discovered the Diploma at LSHTM. I was interested in applying for the PDTN at this worldwide leading postgraduate university in public, international health and tropical medicine to contribute to its mission of improving health in the world. All this was in perfect harmony with my purpose of developing professionally in international cooperation as a nurse. I would like to deeply thank everyone who made my admission possible, a dream come true, and this wonderful course. To all thank you, thank you, thank you.

The incredible opportunity to study at LSHTM complemented my career in so many ways, providing me theoretical and practical knowledge with two hours of practice per week in the laboratory, in: public health, primary and community care, emergency and disaster care, medical anthropology, sanitation infrastructure technologies, mental health, obstetrics and gynaecology, nutrition, immunology, parasitology, conflicts and health blood group determination, blood cross-tests, haemoglobin estimation, non-communicable diseases along with a wide coverage of tropical diseases. As well as learning to diagnose Malaria, Leishmaniosis, Philariasis and other parasitic diseases. The course also helped me to perform an effective literature search and find items in databases, as we had to submit an essay based on previous research.

Describe your volunteering experience.

The week before leaving Madrid I read a phrase by Pablo Coelho that I think is necessary to introduce an experience like this: ‘There is a language in the world that everyone understands: it is the language of enthusiasm, of things done with LOVE and with will, in search of what is desired or believed. When you feel full and complete of love, about anything that makes you connect more with that and expand in your life.’

In April 2019 I found the Iluminafrica Foundation, whilst looking for a volunteer position as a nurse. Since childhood I have always had in mind that the sun does not shine the same for all. My experience at the hospital of Saint Joseph de Bebedjia, Tchad from July to October 2019, shows this. In general, living and sanitation conditions are far from the minimum that has been established by the international organisations and the sustainable development goals set for 2030 by the United Nations Organisation (UN). It is a very big cultural shock and these conditions made me feel helpless, angry and sad, but never made me forget the reason for my volunteering. I have witnessed cases of patients with incurable terminal diseases without adequate means, orphaned new-born babies of a mother who died from perinatal haemorrhage at home, 125 paediatric patients in a 40-bed service, intractable hypoxemias when there is no O2 or electricity to correct it, deaths without justifiable cause as there are no adequate means of diagnosis, death of children with diseases: Malaria, Tuberculosis, HIV, Hepatitis …etc.

On a professional level, one of my actions had been to observe the deficiencies of all kinds that the hospital suffers at a technical level and training of professionals from day one: search, study, and print solutions in French and with a close relationship with the Technical and Administrative Directorate of the hospital and via WhatsApp with Enganchados and Iluminafrica. The clinical improvement efforts have been heard but are still to be implemented in the different services. I can refer to a great success what has been achieved through this communication, the logistic support provided in both the optics and the hospital who have expressed the importance of improving its quality of care. I think it is a common vision of the volunteers who have gone through Bebedjia. This experience has meant an impressive two-way cultural exchange of learning.

I would really recommend for current students to volunteer in a low-resource setting. I think that this was the most rewarding experience of my life. A passion and a perspective of improving equality in terms of health and sustainable development worldwide have definitely been forged, being aware of the challenges and difficulties that I would face in the tropics and in developing countries. It has given me an overview of reality in a country with very limited human and economic resources and enriched to truly human level. Thanks Tchad for opening your doors, giving smiles and letting me understand you a little more since without your help it would have been even more unbeatable.

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